PORT TOWNSEND — The Navy has determined the way it will mitigate the addition of Growler EA-18G jets over historic properties on Whidbey Island and that method does not include noise monitoring.
The Navy will provide the National Park Service $887,000 to support Ferry House preservation and to install historical interpretive signs within the Ebey’s Landing area, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said in a letter to the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) on Friday.
He declined the ACHP’s recommendations to continue to measure jet noise and further study the effects of noise on the historic properties on Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.
The noise is an important point for residents of Port Townsend and elsewhere on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Navy had not invited Port Townsend, which is most directly affected, to participate in negotiations about noise affecting historical districts near Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. The Navy cut off the negotiations late last year.
The Growlers are “hard for us,” said David Timmons, Port Townsend city manager, on Tuesday.
“They aren’t considered a direct impact, and yet the noise is all around us,” Timmons said.
“There is an impact here. Is the Navy being respectful of the intrusion on surrounding communities? Are they sensitive and have empathy for those around them?” he asked.
Issuance of the letter to the ACHP clears the way for Spencer to make a final decision on the number of Growlers at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island as well as how aircraft carrier landing practice will be divided between the Ault Field and Outlying Field Coupeville runways.
The preferred alternative under the Environmental Impact Statement would add up to 36 Growlers to the base, directing 80 percent of practice to OLF Coupeville, which would have more than 24,000 takeoffs and landings practices annually, estimated to be more than four times the current number of field practices.
“I have given serious consideration to each of your comments, as well as the concerns expressed by consulting parties and the public,” Spencer wrote in the letter to ACHP.
Spencer said that the noise analysis done in June 2018 incorporated actual noise measurements and modeling which “has been validated in court.”
He noted that operational conditions “would be similar to levels that occurred at the time the historic district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve was created in 1978.”
He declined further study of the impacts on private property owners in the historic district but agreed that innovative partnerships should be undertaken to promote the long-term preservation of affected historic properties.
The Navy agreed that although intermittent, the proposed increased Growler operations would result in adverse indirect effects to the Central Whidbey Island Historic District by affecting the “perceptual qualities” of five locations that contribute to the significance of the landscape. They found no other adverse effects including no potential for direct effects on historic properties.
Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean said that the city of Port Townsend is affected by Growlers more than much of the county is, but she supports any and all efforts by the city for protecting historic assets.
“What seems consistent here are the concerns of the modeling the Navy has done,” Dean said. “Using an averaging method to assess noise impact is not an accurate way to study noise. We’ve been told this again and again by constituents. The averaging is a little unfair and is very distressing.”
“The bigger issue is that a lot of people don’t feel they have a way to provide input to the Navy that is actually considered,” she said.
Maryon Attwood, chair of the Sound Defense Alliance of Whidbey Island said that Spencer ignored most of the input received from the community and stakeholders.
“It is shockingly disrespectful to the people, and elected leaders of Northwest Washington that he ignored what we asked for and offered things that had already been roundly rejected by the regional community, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Congressman [Rick] Larsen and the governor,” Attwood said.
“We have been working to find a balance but the Department of Defense [DOD] wants more. They have proven that they are not interested in listening or being a good neighbor.”
Allyson Brooks, the state Historic Preservation Officer, said in a statement that she was disappointed that the Navy rejected most of the federal advisory council’s recommendations.
“Specifically, we were hoping for precise noise monitoring among other recommendations, including continued work with stakeholders,” Brooks wrote.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].